How a New Generation Is Fighting to Survive Climate Change

Earlier this year I had a chance to be interviewed by Geoff Dembicki for a new book he’s writing called “Are We Screwed?” for Bloomsbury US. It focuses on how millennials are fighting climate change with new political and economic strategies. Some of my own efforts as a citizen will be discussed in the book, and were mentioned in Geoff’s recent talk at TEDxEastVan. The Tyee also has an article/transcript of Geoff’s talk here.

Gitga'at First Nation Records the Soundscape Of Its Marine Territory to Protect Against Shipping and Tanker Noise

Baseline acoustical research initiated to study potential risk of increased marine traffic disturbing wildlife along the Douglas Channel, as well as cultural-use impacts on indigenous Territory

HARTLEY BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - May 12, 2016) - The Gitga'at First Nation and researchers from UBC and Michigan State University have completed a first of its kind study along Douglas Channel and adjacent waters in Gitga'at marine Territory, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. The channel has been proposed as an oil tanker shipping route for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The results of the community-led study, published in the open-access scientific journal Global Ecology and Conservation, present a 'baseline' of the diverse acoustic-ecological conditions of Gitga'at Territory. This baseline is informed by over 357,000 discreet sound recordings, taken at eight locations in Gitga'at Territory over a 14-month period.

"This study builds on our multi-faceted ecological and cultural monitoring program and establishes baseline sound conditions against which the Gitga'at can assess future potential shipping and tanker traffic proposals in our territory," said Chris Picard, Science Director, Gitga'at Lands and Marine Resources Department. "It gives us a critical tool for protecting and managing our Territory and marine resources against the cumulative effects of industrial development."

While government and industry have just started talking about the need for more ecological monitoring in the face of greater proposed development on the coast, the Gitga'at and partners are actually busy doing it. This is critically important as more and more 'soundscape ecology' research reveals that increases in industrial noise can cause significant disturbance to wildlife, and cultural-use impacts.

"The Gitga'at people have a long history of protecting our territory and the cultural and social values, and the marine resources that sustain our nation," said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor and Hereditary Chief of the Gitga'at First Nation. "Effective noise control policies are just one of the administrative tools we are considering to protect the Great Bear Rainforest and BC's coastal waters for all British Columbians."

The study considers an array of ecological sites along the Douglas Channel as well as Otter Channel and Wright Sound, recording captured acoustic signatures of marine mammals, ravens, and eagles, boat and aircraft noise, as well as wind, waves and rain.

"The frequency and intensity of anthropogenic noise in Gitga'at Territory is currently very low, suggesting a low degree of disturbance by human activities," said Stuart Gage, Professor Emeritus with Michigan State University's Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services & Remote Environmental Assessment Laboratory. "The potential increase in boat traffic due to the establishment of a new shipping channel through Gitga'at Territory would likely cause significant disturbance of the biophony in the region."

The study is one of the first indigenous-settler collaborations of its kind in the rapidly expanding field of soundscape ecology, and involved Gitga'at high school students, two of whom are listed as co-authors.

"This baseline project was a tremendous opportunity to learn from and work with Gitga'at," said Max Ritts, a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UBC. "One of the most interesting developments was working alongside students from the Hartley Bay Elementary School, who performed essential tasks as field technicians. This wasn't an initial part of the proposal but emerged over the course of our engagement. I think the idea that scientific monitoring should adapt to the emerging interests of the community isn't always easy for science to incorporate, but it is necessary. We were fortunate to have Gitga'at Leadership guide us through this process."

Full research article:


Contact Information

Chris Picard Science Director Gitga'at Lands and Marine Resources Department 778.884.2402

Max Ritts PhD Candidate Department of Geography, University of British Columbia 778.884.6580

Biosocial Theory and Environmental Communication

Just read a very cool article by David Backes where he proposes using biosocial theory as a framework for studying environmental communication.

Biosocial theory is just a formalized version of the widespread recognition that there are reciprocal relationships between society and the environment. Bonnicksen summarizes this formalized theory as follows:

The coadaptation of social systems with their physical environments is predicated on the reciprocal operation of two processes: the first of these consists of innovations and successive adjustments in the structure, behavior, and resource use practices of organizations in response to changes in the material, energy, and information they receive from other organizations and their physical environments; the second consists of successive adjustments in the structure and function of ecological systems in response to the material, energy, and information that is transferred to them through the resource use practices employed by organizations. (Bonnicksen & Lee, 1982, p. 52)

Backes further and more simply reduces Bonnicksen's summary as follows, "Individuals and groups in society intentionally or unintentionally affect their physical environments, which respond to these actions in some manner, and this response when perceived by individuals and organizations, encourages them to continue or change their actions."(Backes, p.150)

Backes sees biosocial theory as a useful framework for researchers wishing to explore the relationships between mass communication (part of the social system) and ecosystems through the linkages of human perceptions and behaviour. It also has a useful open-ended predictive function: "Biosocial theory predicts that effects may be expected not only in the direction of mass communication-human perceptions/ behavior-ecosystem, but also in the reverse direction." (P.150).

To test the use of biosocial theory for mass communication research, Backes uses a case study reviewing environmental communication over 50 years as it pertains to a wilderness area (the Quetico-Superior) straddling the border of Ontario and Northern Minnesota. Based on his review, Backes derives five empirical generalizations that he provides evidence for, with important implications for environmental communicators:

G1: Mass media construct images of place and disseminate them to audiences.

G2: The more dependent a person is on the mass media for information about a place, the more important the mass media will be in shaping the person's images of that place.

G3: The images people have of a place will affect that place’s biophysical environment.

G4: The level of social conflict over use and management of a place varies according to the extent that the dominant media images of the place contradict each other.

Among other interesting findings, Backes found considerable social conflict over the issue of controlled burns. In an effort to "balance" the ecosystem (following protections that banned logging) conservationists advocated controlled burns, while the general public, heavily influenced by the U.S. Forest Service's own highly successful "Smokey the Bear" fire prevention campaigns, felt that forest fires were a negative phenomenon to be avoided, let alone intentionally produced.

Backes also found a correlation between mass media depictions of the area as a fishing paradise, a subsequent rise in fishing tourism, and a subsequent crash in fish populations. Backes also found conflict between mass media depictions of the area as the aforementioned fishing paradise and later as a spiritual wilderness area (as communicated by groups like the Sierra Club). Ultimately the mass media depictions of the area as a quiet, spiritual place to be protected grew dominant, with the area eventually protected from logging and motorized water recreation, with fishing lodges purchased and torn down.

While mass media couldn't be the sole determinant of the areas' transformation, it has undoubtedly been one of the most powerful, especially considering that society's knowledge and beliefs about acceptable practices in the area (given its remote location), and subsequent utilizations, were mostly derived from media depictions.

A biosocial approach to evaluating Canada's own domestic and international social conflicts with respect to environmental land-use decisions in the tar sands might be useful to those advocating for a slower, cleaner approach to their development. It also explains why mass media depictions of the tar sands, are so important, and why environmentalists need to shift from images that demonize, towards images and symbols that chart a new future for the area.

'Avatar' as environmental story telling - What's wrong with telling the "same story?"

Between advancements in camera technology and CGI, we are now a civilization capable of creating life-like renderings of anything we can imagine. As we've approached this reality, on more than one occasion I've found myself asking about the power, ethics and social advocacy potential of such images - if we can visually create anything, is there the potential to depict more just or sustainable visions of the future that might compel citizens to make them real? Can we harness that so-called post-Avatar "depression" into a force for good? Is it all just entertainment or is there also a new collective meaning that audiences are buying into?

When we reflect on our viewing experience, the meaning that seems paramount, at least in this first round of hyper real images, is immersive reality itself. Word of mouth goes something like, "you have to SEE it!" It's about the visual spectacle. When I first left the theater I felt a disconnect between the immersive power of the images and the relatively straight-forward story, after all, as many folks have pointed out (usually derisively), 'Avatar' is essentially a re-telling of Pocahontas or Fern Gully. With such original landscapes why wasn't the story more original? After chewing this over a bit, and appreciating the fact that I didn't question the story once during my viewing experience, I realized the story didn't need to be revolutionary because it already was, and even if we had seen it before, we'd never really SEEN it before. Every re-telling is richer, more vivid, more emotional, getting closer and closer to making us feel and accept the story's lessons on a visceral level.

It seems to me that certain human stories have been refined, distilled and in short, fine-tuned to a point where their morals and understandings are taught and reinforced in a fashion that resonates with audiences deeply and efficiently. True, there is plenty to criticize in the movie (particularly from a feminist POV) but I also think the bees in the bonnets

of critics like David Brooks and his "white messiah complex" are overwrought and a typical knee-jerk, conservative "white men can't jump," reaction to a story they never liked. Can the story be classified (as Brooks' does) as a "white messiah fable?" Definitely. Is that (or the fact that we've seen this story before) such a bad thing? No. How many people were exposed to the basic story of Pocahontas for the first time because of this film? How many people felt and took in that same story (even if they had experienced it before) more strongly because of this film?

In his list of stereotypes he feels the film perpetuates, Brooks' first and foremost criticism is that the story, "...rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic." On reflection, that statement (problematic because of his own totalizing formulation and Brooks' decision to strangely focus on "athleticism"), is not far off the mark if we recall the real historical examples of colonial domination the movie is meant to emulate: the decimation of indigenous peoples in North and South America (yes, "Pocohontas in space" for the cynical) and the rationalist and technocratic extraction of resources that followed that domination, not to mention rationalist and technocratic institutions of human domination like slavery or more recently, residential schools. Does Brooks think we've already learned the moral antidotes to these recent and disturbing chapters in Western civilization? All evidence is that this is a story and set of morals we haven't learned yet, and given our present course (present human and environmental destruction) there's nothing to say we aren't capable of making the same mistakes hundreds of years from today (minus some of the evil marine play acting).

The power and allure of the "white messiah fable" is the fantasy of turning on one's own morally bankrupt culture and seeking redemption in the culture of the oppressed. I agree that messages suggesting that indigenous people can only rise-up with the help of a "white messiah" are problematic, however I don't think that's the key lesson learned or even the point of the story - the real focus is on showing (sugar-coated in over the top heroics and girl-getting) that it is possible to go against the grain and to adopt new ways of being. I don't think that's such a bad thing...there's a reason the story of Pocahontas still resonates strongly today, and there's a reason Mr. Cameron's movie is shattering box-office records (it's very possible that a similar movie with just as immersive images but less primal storytelling would flop).

From conversations I've had with young adults, it was movies like Pocahontas and Fern Gully that first stoked their social and environmental awareness.

What's wrong with telling the "same story?"

Moms Against Climate Change - Media Digest

Quick photo digest of an event I helped manage media relations for in Vancouver last night. Got some great photos (click them to see full size)! A story also aired on CTV and a Canadian Press photo is still floating around somewhere.

This was a unique angle in the Copenhagen story - something local, emotional and more human - mother's concern for the welfare of their children -  a message we need to see and hear more often.

God Save The Bou: 5000 Emails for 5000 Caribou

Feel Good Click of the Day: 5000 Emails for 5000 Caribou

That's what a new online campaign I'm helping to promote is hoping to achieve in Ontario by December 31, 2009.

The same Woodland Caribou that appears on the quarter in your pocket is quickly disappearing from the southern Boreal Forest of Ontario (just 5000 remaining), despite a promise from Premier McGuinty, over two years ago, to protect the animal’s habitat.

Don't Be Shallow

Social media is often accused of being shallow and all about self-affirmation, well why not go deep and affirm the right of Ontario's Woodland caribou to survive by sending an email to Premier McGuinty today, directly from the petition page (www.savethebou.ca) before joining our Facebook community at www.facebook/savethebou and tweeting your good deed (there's the self-affirmation part!) and hopefully re-tweeting the campaign's feed at www.twitter.com/savethebou.

Remember to invite interested friends to become fans of the FB page.

Save Caribou and Protect Our Climate

Canada's Boreal Forest is the largest terrestrial storehouse of carbon on earth, making it a vital regulator of global climate. When caribou habitat is logged, carbon is released into the atmosphere. When caribou habitat is preserved, trees and soil can absorb more carbon and keep it in the ground where it belongs. A 50% reduction in logging in the Boreal would reduce global warming pollution equivalent to taking all the passenger cars in Canada off the road. An Early Christmas Present For Ontario's Caribou?

With only 5000 caribou left, and 76 days remaining before the end of 2009, every day that passes without a credible caribou conservation strategy means another flip of the coin for the survival of Ontario's caribou. If Premier McGuinty isn't persuaded to do the right thing by Dec. 31st, new logging plans for caribou habitat will be drafted in the new year and that means more logging and fewer caribou by this time next year. 

Give these critters an early Christmas present.

Every little click helps!

Wood Fires

In 1942 my nana, Isabelle Christie MacNaughton ("Buddie" to her friends), published a book of poems titled, "Wood Fires." Printed by the local Chronicle Publishing Company (home of the local newspaper, "The Oliver Chronicle") the book's proceeds went to the Red Cross during World War II. Apart from loving the work because it's my nana's words and an important part of our family history and mythology, I love it because it's a beautiful window into the life of a young woman growing up in the South Okanagan. The poems would have been written primarily at the Grey Sage Ranch, just south of Okanagan Falls in the 1930's and 40's, and they are very much place-based and read like a beautifully rendered painting of an Okanagan hill side. The prose is often innocent, naive, longing, whimsical and sweet. It is also mournful, some being written following the death of my nana's brother, Bob, who was shot down during a bombing run over Germany. In short it is from a different time and place, but one I still recognize whenever I visit home.

The book's unabashed love affair with the wilderness, and the prospect of sharing that love with a kindred spirit, foreshadowed my nana's marriage to my grandad, Carleton MacNaughton, a local naturalist who was just as in love with the hills and critters as she was. The life stories they wrote together brought the hills to life for me, a child of the 80's and early 90's, and sparked my own curiosity and love for nature.

As part of this site's "poetry" section, I'm planning to republish my nana's poems here in the coming weeks and months, bringing a little slice of early Okanagan life, as interpreted by Buddie MacNaughton, to the digital age.

The first poem shares the book's title, "Wood Fires."

Wood Fires

All the singing fire spirits, Gypsies of the sun, Play upon our kindly hearth When the day is done---

The pine song and alder son, The wind song and rain, Gathered through the laughing years Sound for us again.

Trees have lived in loveliness, How could they but bring Happiness that's longing still In a heart to sing?

Hemp Seed Hearts. They're what's for dinner.

Another installment in the "It's what's for dinner" series of posts. We've probably all heard of hemp seeds and snickered - dirty hippies, expensive health food stores, patchouli etc.

When my local grocer offered me a free sample a few months ago, I laughed, "What am I going to do with hempseeds, besides make you rich?" I looked at the sample to humor him and was about to hand it back when the nutrition information caught my eye: 4 tbsp = 22 grams of protein and 40% of your daily recommended iron intake. Wait a second. That's not bad...in fact that's pretty darn good (especially with the iron...if you're on a low or no meat diet, iron is something you need to consciously consume everyday).

I'm a notorious cheap skate and I can't remember why, but $2 is a number that sticks in my head as being a good price for a serving of protein (you'll pay a heck of a lot more for chicken, beef or fish). The one pound bags my grocer was selling were going for $13 a piece. Seems pricey until you do the math: Each bag has 7.5 servings of protein which means each serving costs roughly $1.75. Cha-ching. But there's more.


Excited about the possibilites of incorporating hemp seed hearts into my diet, I did some background reading and I learned some pretty incredible things:

A Complete Protein - Hemp is one of the few plant proteins that is complete - that means it contains all of your essential amino acids - the basic building blocks of protein. Amino acids also play a key role in general biochemistry, and a deficiency can have serious health impacts.

No Pesticides or Herbicides - Hemp is a fast growing hardy plant that does not require pesticides or herbicides. For all intensive purposes the crop is organic (which is why I feel comfortable not buying "organic" hemp seeds).

Canadian and Sustainable - Hemp is grown right here on the Canadian prairies. Nice and close, and a crop that yields not only nutritious seeds, but also fibres for everything from paper making to hemp clothing. Using hemp as an alternative fibre and food source takes pressure off our forests and replaces more environmentally destructive forms of protein production such as the meat industry, where enormous fossil fuel inputs are required (growing the grain to feed animals in the first place) not to mention the very real climate change impacts of the methane released when cows pass gas (cows in the U.S. account for 20% of methane emissions in that country, and methane lives in our atmosphere 20 times as long as carbon dioxide).

Omega O-Mazing - When it comes to getting your Omega's, hemp is through the roof. Lot's of Omega 3's and 6's to keep your heart and brain happy and healthy.

As for actually consuming hemp seed hearts, they are TASTY! A really nice nutty flavour (I eat them right out of the bag with a spoon after a workout). My favourite modus operandi these days is making a pancake and covering it with 4 tbsp of hemp seeds, blueberries and maple syrup...it's killer and will keep you going strong until lunch.

Hemp seed hearts. They're what's for dinner.